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Thomas Michalski
‘Joan of Shark’ and other tails
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You know him ... you know how he made a living. Those famous paraphrased words were spoken by Quint, the shark hunter in the popular 1975 movie, “Jaws.”

For those who may have been comatose all these years, “Jaws” is the story about a great white shark that made munchies out of swimmers in the fictitious beach town of Amity.

And now, if recent news reports are accurate, Pinellas County beach towns may soon become the stomping ... or swimming grounds ... for great whites with appetites for snowbirds, bikini-clad locals and snorkelers who unintentionally present themselves as smorgasbords.

Nearly a half dozen Carcharodon carcharias, the official moniker of the great white shark, have been hooked in Florida waters since January. The latest catch occurred recently off Fort Lauderdale Beach. The 13-footer weighed more than 500 pounds.

Then there was the 16-foot, 3,500-pound monster that was spotted off Jacksonville Beach, causing authorities to order swimmers out of the water.

Florida’s east coast is far enough away not to cause much trepidation in Pinellas County. But think about the great white of undetermined weight and size that was hooked last March off Treasure Island!

Did that get your attention?

The most infamous local shark attack transpired in August 2000 when Thaddeus Kubinski, 69, was killed by a bull shark while swimming in about five feet of water in Boca Ciega Bay on the Intracoastal Waterway. Kubinski’s St. Pete Beach assault was Florida’s 19th deadly shark attack since 1882.

Contemporary sightings of the terrifying creatures number into the dozens. A great white recently was spotted swimming off Anna Marie Island. More reports of great whites, bulls and tigers ... three of the most aggressive squalliest ... have spiraled upward. Scientists theorize that Florida waters are cooling down. That’s good news for sharks that are wandering here from northern waters.

The Florida Museum of Natural History maintains an international shark attack file. Scientists argue that more people are killed each year by insect stings and snake bites than by shark attacks.

Tell that to Quint, Chrissie Watkins or Alex Kintner who were devoured by the 25-footer in Jaws.

Real sharks really don’t find human flesh very enticing. Researchers believe that their nibbling of human body parts is more of a taste test than anything else.

Only about 12 of the approximately 300 breeds of sharks attack humans. The fish evolved millions of years before people showed up on our planet. That could be why sharks are programmed to dine on smaller fish and marine mammals.

Anyone can track the whereabouts of tagged great whites and other shark species by visiting www.ocearch.org.

Operated by OSEARCH, this nonprofit group scrutinizes the travel patterns of the ocean predators they tag. The toothy brutes are baptized with endearing names like Lydia, Mary Lee, Michelle and Gina. One Australian Great white was named “Joan of Shark” by someone with a sense of humor.

Katherine is a shark of interest that has been lurking in Florida waters as of late. With her own Twitter account, Shark_Katherine, one of her recent tweets read, “We should do a live feed.” 

Katherine is more than 14 feet long, weighs 2,300 pounds and has journeyed hundreds of miles since being tagged last August off Cape Cod, Mass. She has been swimming down the U.S. east coast and visited St. Augustine, Vero Beach and Miami.

Her latest track was off Key West. It is expected that she eventually will swim up the west coast of Florida, and that includes Pinellas County, and then further out into the Gulf.

And she will grow in both length and weight.

Scientists theorize that rogue sharks simply want to be left alone to swim and eat sea snacks. But there have been too many recorded attacks upon humans in shallow water to ignore. The latest Florida attack occurred on July 22 when Aadyn Crick, an 8-year-old Indiana boy, was attacked in the shallow waters near Melbourne.

Two months before, on May 14, Mihaela Cosa was wading in thigh-deep water near Jacksonville when a shark caused enough damage to require 24 stitches. A day later a woman was attacked while surfboarding near Miami.

The web site sharkattacksurvivors.com recorded a fair number of incidents this year, including near New Smyrna Beach and Cocoa Beach.

Australia is home to the greatest of the great whites. Six people have died during the past two years, including Christine Armstrong, 60, who was brutally attacked off Tathra. Only parts of a man were discovered off Perth.

Despite an uptick in worldwide shark attacks, scientists note that 30- to 70-million sharks are slaughtered annually for food, fins and accidentally by fishing nets. Humans actually pose more of a threat to sharks, rays and skates than the other way around.

Think about that the next time a dorsal fin is circling you.

Maybe sharks are just getting even for the callous deaths of their relatives.

Thomas Michalski is a retired Tampa Bay Newspapers editor. He can be reached at thomasamski@yahoo.com.
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Tampa Bay Newspapers
9911 Seminole Blvd.,
Seminole, FL 33772
Phone: (727) 397-5563
Fax: (727) 397-5900
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